Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Fascist Right Goes To War With Apple


Herr Trumpf, tweeting away on his iPhone6, is advocating a boycott of Apple because the company refuses to buckle under to the American National Security State and create a "back-door" so that Apple customers-- including Herr Trumpf-- can be spied on. That's too complicated for him and way too complicated for his fan boys. I have a feeling many of them aren't in the Apple target demos anyway.

Even before Herr caught on there was some political hay to be made over the FBI's dispute with Apple, the homophobic, Grindr-using neo-fascist senator from Arkansas, Tom Cotton, was labeling Apple as terrorist friendly. One of Cotton's colleagues mused to me on the phone today that although Cotton went to Harvard, "he's as dumb as a box of bricks" [and doesn't have the capacity to either] employ critical thinking or understand the abstractions behind the case." Cotton also seems to expect Apple to spy on its customers who are suspected of "drug-trafficking, kidnapping, and child pornography."

I think it's worth publishing Apple CEO Tim Cook's letter to Apple customers explaining the issues more clearly than either Herr Trumpf or Cotton want to.
The United States government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers. We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.

This moment calls for public discussion, and we want our customers and people around the country to understand what is at stake.

The Need for Encryption

Smartphones, led by iPhone, have become an essential part of our lives. People use them to store an incredible amount of personal information, from our private conversations to our photos, our music, our notes, our calendars and contacts, our financial information and health data, even where we have been and where we are going.

All that information needs to be protected from hackers and criminals who want to access it, steal it, and use it without our knowledge or permission. Customers expect Apple and other technology companies to do everything in our power to protect their personal information, and at Apple we are deeply committed to safeguarding their data.

Compromising the security of our personal information can ultimately put our personal safety at risk. That is why encryption has become so important to all of us.

For many years, we have used encryption to protect our customers’ personal data because we believe it’s the only way to keep their information safe. We have even put that data out of our own reach, because we believe the contents of your iPhone are none of our business.

The San Bernardino Case

We were shocked and outraged by the deadly act of terrorism in San Bernardino last December. We mourn the loss of life and want justice for all those whose lives were affected. The FBI asked us for help in the days following the attack, and we have worked hard to support the government’s efforts to solve this horrible crime. We have no sympathy for terrorists.

When the FBI has requested data that’s in our possession, we have provided it. Apple complies with valid subpoenas and search warrants, as we have in the San Bernardino case. We have also made Apple engineers available to advise the FBI, and we’ve offered our best ideas on a number of investigative options at their disposal.

We have great respect for the professionals at the FBI, and we believe their intentions are good. Up to this point, we have done everything that is both within our power and within the law to help them. But now the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone.

Specifically, the FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation. In the wrong hands, this software-- which does not exist today-- would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.

The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.

The Threat to Data Security

Some would argue that building a backdoor for just one iPhone is a simple, clean-cut solution. But it ignores both the basics of digital security and the significance of what the government is demanding in this case.

In today’s digital world, the “key” to an encrypted system is a piece of information that unlocks the data, and it is only as secure as the protections around it. Once the information is known, or a way to bypass the code is revealed, the encryption can be defeated by anyone with that knowledge.

The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that’s simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks-- from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable.

The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers-- including tens of millions of American citizens-- from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals. The same engineers who built strong encryption into the iPhone to protect our users would, ironically, be ordered to weaken those protections and make our users less safe.

We can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack. For years, cryptologists and national security experts have been warning against weakening encryption. Doing so would hurt only the well-meaning and law-abiding citizens who rely on companies like Apple to protect their data. Criminals and bad actors will still encrypt, using tools that are readily available to them.

A Dangerous Precedent

Rather than asking for legislative action through Congress, the FBI is proposing an unprecedented use of the All Writs Act of 1789 to justify an expansion of its authority.

The government would have us remove security features and add new capabilities to the operating system, allowing a passcode to be input electronically. This would make it easier to unlock an iPhone by “brute force,” trying thousands or millions of combinations with the speed of a modern computer.

The implications of the government’s demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data. The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge.

Opposing this order is not something we take lightly. We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government.

We are challenging the FBI’s demands with the deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country. We believe it would be in the best interest of everyone to step back and consider the implications.

While we believe the FBI’s intentions are good, it would be wrong for the government to force us to build a backdoor into our products. And ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.
I wonder if Cotton would understand that the $59 billion worth of products Apple sells to China annually might be jeopardized if Apple started creating back doors so U.S. spy agencies could access people's data. As Katie Benner and Paul Mozur mentioned in the NY Times yesterday, Apple "is playing the long game with its business. Privacy and security have become part of its brand, especially internationally, where it reaps almost two-thirds of its almost $234 billion a year in sales. And if it cooperates with one government, the thinking goes, it will have to cooperate with all of them. 'Tim Cook is leveraging his personal brand and Apple’s to stand on the side of consumer privacy in this environment,' said Mark Bartholomew, a law professor at the University of Buffalo who studies encryption and cyberlaw... If Apple accedes to American law enforcement demands for opening the iPhone in the San Bernardino case and Beijing asks for a similar tool, it is unlikely Apple would be able to control China’s use of it. Yet if Apple were to refuse Beijing, it would potentially face a battery of penalties. Analysts said Chinese officials were pushing for greater control over the encryption and security of computers and phones sold in the country, though Beijing last year backed off on some proposals that would have required foreign companies to provide encryption keys for devices sold in the country after facing pressure from foreign trade groups."

That's way too complicated for Herr Trumpf or the Grindr closet-case senator guy from Arkansas. Perhaps Ted Lieu (D-CA) could take pity on him and explain why this is important to get right. "This FBI court order, by compelling a private sector company to write new software, is essentially making that company an arm of law-enforcement," he informed his Los Angeles area constituents. "Private sector companies are not-- and should not be-- an arm of government or law enforcement. This court order also begs the question: Where does this kind of coercion stop? Can the government force Facebook to create software that provides analytic data on who is likely to be a criminal? Can the government force Google to provide the names of all people who searched for the term ISIL? Can the government force Amazon to write software that identifies who might be suspicious based on the books they ordered? Forcing Apple to weaken its encryption system in this one case means the government can force Apple-- or any other private sector company-- to weaken encryption systems in all future cases. This precedent-setting action will both weaken the privacy of Americans and hurt American businesses. And how can the FBI ensure the software that it is forcing Apple to create won’t fall into the wrong hands? Given the number of cyberbreaches in the federal government—including at the Department of Justice-- the FBI cannot guarantee this back door software will not end up in the hands of hackers or other criminals." Let's make sure we don't elect anymore-spying authoritarian types to anything.

Goal Thermometer

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At 2:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do we have incontrovertible proof that NO Apple computer, as opposed smart phones, has ever been sold, or is being sold, with the so-called back door?

Sorry, BOTH parties of the corporate/government "partnership" bear continuous scrutiny.

John Puma


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